Why are the lines in the above image physically crooked? People can invent all sorts of theories to answer this question.  They could say that ghosts, fairies or quantum mechanics are making the lines crooked — but the fact is it doesn’t need an explanation in the first place because they just aren’t physically crooked. (Hint: This is an optical illusion, yes the lines are straight!)

The reason people will always be wrong with each new “crooked line theory” (or each new god) is that the entire premise was flawed from the start.


In this illusion for example, there is a known glitch in the human brain that makes people think that the lines are crooked. It’s part of how our optical pattern recognition software works. This glitch causes the beliefs and theories to appear as we struggle to make sense of our observations, and this is why it seems silly to stay on the fence (agnostic) believing that there might be a fairy or some other external reason causing the physically crooked lines.

We must understand the mote in our own eyes before trying to solve the riddles of the universe.

 
In the same way, if humans have a need to feel protected, safe, hopeful, purposeful, special and loved — then we will keep inventing gods. Not that all gods exist, but the glitch or need to invent them does — we desire a god to exist, we want to experience an intimate connection to a hero, a parent, a leader, someone that can guide us, love us and give us hope.
 
The reasoning is backwards. We have a glitch that makes us prefer a benevolent, heroic god, so we create theories, feelings, visions and excuses to support the glitch. When you see this glitch for what it really is, and when you can see it as plain as day, it’s as disappointing as this optical illusion. Once you see it, you can’t simply unknow it (at least I can’t). It seems silly to create hundreds of reasons and hundreds of gods to support the glitch, and yet humans have done so for millennia.
 

If we take a step back from humanity for a moment to see history over a five thousand year period, it is plain to see that humans are inventing a wide variety of gods at a decent clip of at least 8 major gods per century[1,2,3].

This is not because each one is real (thank Thor!), but because the need for them is massive. Even today, modern crowds still love to go see a good hero flick where our mundane realities are upheaved by Superman, Iron Man, Hercules or Thor. The evidence supports a glitch — a human error based on a human need — we have ample evidence that when life gets hard we want a hero to save us from our circumstances, and we want it so badly that we will invent one.

 

I’m not against coping strategies, but if we lean too heavily on imaginary solutions to real problems, we could end up holding too tightly to thin air — neglecting real solutions, and causing real harm.

My own theistic friends have inadvertently caused the death to at least two of their own family members because prayer was placed as a higher priority than proper medical treatment. (While medicine is not perfect, I do believe rationality can directly save lives!)

If we demand evidence, check facts, and learn to think rationally, like adults, we can make life better for ourselves and for our family. I believe that when we insert our gods into other people’s lives we risk pulling them away from the path that leads to real progress, and real solutions — things like education, science, technology and social improvement.

Yes we need heroes, hopes and dreams, but we need a bit of common sense as well.

Don’t agree? Have something to add? Share it in the comments!